This is the first article in a series about Glanceable Displays and my efforts to create one for my household. For other articles in the series, click on the title of the article under the heading “Glanceable Displays” on the right side of the webpage.


In this article, I will introduce the concept of glanceable displays and describe how they can be used in an everyday office or home. I will then discuss how the audience for the display is important, including a side bar about my opinion on Spousal Acceptance Factor. Understanding the limitations of your audience is also covered, leading up to developing a set of definitions on what should be displayed. Finally, I will talk about how my family followed those steps to arrive at the requirements for our glanceable display, which has buy in from every member of our household.

What Are Glanceable Displays?

According to

1 noting or relating to information on an electronic screen that can be understood quickly or at a glance: glanceable data; a glanceable scoreboard.

2 enabling information on a screen to be quickly understood: a glanceable design; glanceable interfaces.

In essence, a glanceable display is a display that provides information that can be quickly understood by people reading the display. An important qualification of these displays is that the information they display needs to have a broad degree of applicability without any ability for a specific reader to customize the data to their needs.

As the display must provide information with no personal customization, it is important to think about various things up front.

Who Is the Display For?

The audience of the display will drive many of the other choices for the glanceable display.

Be honest about who the real audience is for your glanceable display, and what benefits that audience will gain from the display. Negotiate with the audience members and make sure that there is something on the display for each member. If possible, engage with those members to help with the display so their work becomes part of the display, fostering interest from the beginning. The key is for your project to make the jump from “my toy project” to “our useful project”, solving real world issues with real world requirements.

If you are not honest about your audience and do not communicate with them sincerely, you will invariably end up missing your goals for the display. Without these, your base requirements will not be correct, and your final product will not be correct. If you only want the display for your personal office, it is perfectly acceptable for you to say that you are the sole audience and geek out on the display. That is, it is acceptable if you are honest about that audience. In that case, just be realistic and don’t expect people you didn’t include in your original audience to appreciate your display. After all, you made it just for you!

Spousal Acceptance Factor

As an aside, I have often heard of concerns from people about something they made having a low SAF or Spousal Acceptance Factor. I honestly think that is silly. If there is a low SAF, it probably means that someone did something where their spouse was either not consulted on or not considered with in terms of requirements. It is human to want to share your excitement with family around you but remember that your excitement is not their excitement. Unless you sincerely include them in the audience, the chance of acceptance will remain low.

How Are You Going To Display It?

In terms of deciding how to display the glanceable information, you really have only one decision to make: are you going to ask the viewer to visit an online site with a device or are you going to provide access to a device at a given location?

If you decide on the visit paradigm, you don’t have any hardware concerns as the reader is supplying the hardware. With the viewer using their own device to view the display, another decision must be made regarding whether to standardize on a single device type or to support multiple device types. If you decide to support multiple device types, you will probably need to use an intermediate step where you start with support for only the most used device type. Once that device type has been completed, you can then slowly adapt your display to the next device type your viewers are using. You will also need to ensure that you have a clear definition on where your display can be accessed from. If you have a website for your office that you display on phones or tablets, can it be viewed from anywhere, or just within the office’s WiFi area?

If you decide on the specific location paradigm, you limit your device type to one, but you take on additional hardware concerns. You get to focus on a single device type, but in exchange, you need to provide for the setup and control of that device. Consider the case where the power goes off and then comes back. How will your hardware solution handle that or will someone need to reboot it? Another important consideration is the cost of the hardware and any needed peripherals. Will you reuse existing hardware that you already have, or will you require expenditures?

The output from your evaluation of this section should be a choice of a single approach and a list of reasons why the selected approach was chosen. If possible, provide as many details as possible as it will help you in other sections going forward. Also, from your audience’s point of view, it will help them understand the decisions that you have asked them to buy in to.

What Do You Need To Consider Up Front?

As the display is a glanceable display, this means that everyone should be able to view the display with few issues, if any. Common issues to think about are:

Near and Far Sightedness

A large segment of every population either wears glasses or contacts at some point in their life. Especially as people get older, their eyesight gets weaker and they rely on glasses more frequently.

Depending on the differing quality of eyesight of your audience, you may want to consider using larger fonts to enable them to see the screen more clearly. In addition, you may want to consider a high contract mode that includes fewer, but bolder colors to improve visibility.

Color Blindness

Color blindness, as shown in this article on Wikipedia, is an inability to see differences in either all colors or certain types of colors. Keep in mind that if your audience is not a family environment, the person with color blindness may not disclose that they are color blind up front.

If one of your audience is color blind, using colors on your display to indicate certain things is a bad idea. Use shapes or text instead of colors to denote differences in the data being displayed.

Dyslexia and Other Reading Disorders

Dyslexia, as shown in this article on Wikipedia, is actually a family of similar disorders involving the brain and how numbers and letters are processed when reading. Other reading disorders, such as those mentioned in this Wikipedia article, are often grouped by people as dyslexia, when they are only related. As with dyslexia, keep in mind that if you audience is not a family environment, the person with dyslexia may not disclose that they are color blind up front.

Advances in research on reading issues have produced advances such as the Dyslexie font which is specially made for people with dyslexia. Engage with your audience to determine if any such issues apply, what their effects are, and talk with them and research with them on ways to adapt the display to make it easier for them to comprehend.

Young Readers

Young readers, due to their age, are either still learning how to read or are building their vocabulary as the grow.

To assist any young readers that are going to use your display, consider replacing some of the objects that you want to display with pictures that indicate the object’s meaning. For ‘older’ young readers, keep in mind that their vocabulary is different than yours, and change you designs for the display accordingly.

What Are You Going To Display?

Once you have all the other sections taken care of, the decision of what to put on the display is almost anti-climactic. After going through the process of identifying your audience, the type of display to use, and any considerations for your audience, you have probably defined at least one or two things to display along the way. At the very least, armed with the information above, you can engage with your audience in a brainstorming session that will allow you to get buy-in from them.

Two important things to remember at this stage: soliciting help and iterative development.

Don’t be afraid to ask your audience to help you in the design for the display. That can take any form you want, from design the information for the display with them there to asking them to create the displays and presenting them to the entire audience. Remember, for the glanceable display to be successful, you will need buy-in from your audience. Having them help with the work will do that.

Iterative development means that you and your audience are going to try and make something that works, but you do not expect it to be perfect on the first try. You and your audience may be confident think something works when you look at it initially, but over time that confidence may change. Don’t be afraid to iterate on the design, keeping the things that work and changing the things that don’t work.

Our Discussion About Our Glanceable Display

Understanding that any decision would affect my entire family, I asked if we could talk about it after dinner one night. In discussing the possibility of a display, we all agreed that there were common things that it would be nice to see. These things came down to 3 categories: calendar related, weather related, and other.

As we all have busy lives, the calendar was a slam dunk. Our whiteboard calendar didn’t get updated when it should, which left us looking at our online calendars on our phones. But even with our online calendars, it was a pain to remember to invite other family members to any events we had, regardless of whether or not they were part of the event. Having a single place to display that information keyed to a given individual would clear things up and simplify things a lot.

Information on the weather was another category, mostly due to the Seattle weather. While my son wears the same type of clothes every day, my wife and I vary our clothing by the type of weather and activities we have planned. Having that advance knowledge of weather would cut down on having to actively seek that information from a number of online sources.

After those two big categories, there were also some other little things brought up. Not having a good place to put them, the “others” category was formed.

The discussion then moved to decide which class of glanceable display to use, and our family made a simple decision to go with a monitor driven by a web page hosted on a Raspberry Pi. We all agreed that we wanted something that would replace a seldom updated whiteboard calendar in our kitchen. It needed to be big enough to show several weeks’ worth of calendar at a time, to allow us to plan that far out. We also wanted to make sure we kept each other honest, so we explicitly wanted it not tied to any of our personal computers and tied to a location that we know we all frequent: the kitchen.

The choice of the Raspberry Pi satisfied these concerns pretty easily. From a hardware point of view, I had a spare one at home from a project I had wanted to do, but never started. From an operating system point of view, I have enough knowledge of Linux systems that I was confident that I would be able to handle the configuration. Finally, I was prepared to take the challenge on of setting up the system and working with my family to define the elements of the display with their input at ever step.

The Decisions for Our Glanceable Display

So, from those discussions, I arrived at the following.


The audience was our family.


The display itself would be a simple Raspberry Pi with a monitor that was left from a project that I had (almost) worked on. The display would be located in the kitchen in a location that would be visible to family members, but not visible outside of the house.


In our family, we don’t have any members that have vision issues other than needing glasses. As such, the primary concern is that we can all ready the text on the display from 2 meters or 6 feet away.

What To Display?

The primary two goals for the display were to display our calendars and the weather for the next 5 days. Any enhancements of those two goals were fine, as long as the primary goals were not ignored.

Some of the other ideas that were floated may seem funny, but they nicely fit into our other category:

  • chore lists from Trello
  • quote of the day
  • number of days until Christmas
  • number of people on the International Space Station
  • current exchange rates

Wrapping It Up

The rest of the articles in this series will detail my family and I worked on our glanceable display. Based on the information from above, we have had good success with our display. Most of the fixes to the display were tweaks to the information being displayed, rather than the Raspberry Pi itself.

I emphatically stand by the previous sections about and making sure you understand and engage your audience. I credit my family, the audience for our glanceable display, with having an honest conversation on what would help, and getting the buy in from them from the beginning.

What Was Accomplished?

This article presented a set of things to consider when creating a glanceable display, followed by notes on how my family followed that pattern to arrive at our requirements for our glanceable display. Those considerations started with defining your audience, proceeded to understanding your audience, and finally arriving at a set of things that you and your audience want to display.

I cannot promise that if you follow these considerations that your journey will be as successful as ours. However, I believe I can say with some certainty that it will help you along the way with your own journey. To succeed, you need information to help guide you, and each of the considerations above will help you inch closer to that success.

What’s Next?

In the next article in this series, Glanceable Displays: Installing Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi, I walk through the steps I took to set up a Raspberry Pi as our glanceable display of choice. It documents the journey from installation on to a blank MicroSD card to a bare bones installation that enabled remote SSH access.

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So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.

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